June 05, 2012 12:22 am • Caleb Warnock – Daily Herald

SARATOGA SPRINGS — With drinking water running low because of heat and ignored calls for water conservation, Saratoga Springs was forced to turn off outdoor residential watering systems in portions of the city on Monday.

Saratoga Springs issued an emergency water warning to its residents, citing problems with a water tank, but it turns out the tanks are not really the issue. The real problem is that the tanks are being drained at an extraordinary rate, thanks to unseasonably hot weather, a lack of irrigation water and ignored warnings to residents to conserve water.

On the city’s north end, the irrigation water residents use in their sprinkler systems is actually drinking water because the city does not yet have access to irrigation water in that part of the city. With temperatures soaring on Monday, demand simply drained drinking water tanks in that area, assistant city manager Spencer Kyle told the Daily Herald on Monday afternoon.

To keep drinking water from running out, the city had no option but to turn off the irrigation system.

“Culinary water had dropped too low — so low that we needed to shut off the irrigation system,” Kyle said.

And the problem will not go away anytime soon.

The city has additional water wells in the area, but they are broken and repairs will take at least a month. Until then, the city plans to simply turn off the irrigation system in the north part of the city every day. It will be turned back on each evening, as water demand lowers overnight, and will be turned off again each morning. Residents are already under restrictions allowing them only to water outdoors every other day.

Saratoga Springs has only flat-rate outdoor irrigation, and residents are taking advantage of that, using far more water per household than the system was designed to supply — and Kyle added that the supply guidelines the city used to design the system are from the state.

“Because it is a flat rate for their irrigation water, it is not metered, so people can basically use as much as they want, and as often as they want, and that is why we get such high usage in our system,” Kyle said.

Retrofitting every house with a meter is difficult, time-consuming and expensive, and efforts have been underway for a couple of years. But the work will not be done for another two to three years. At that point, the city will be able to charge according to use. Until then, trying to ask and even order residents to conserve water has had only limited success, until the city was forced on Monday to take drastic action.

And it’s not just homes. Schools and private parks owned by homeowners associations continue to water every day, even though the city has asked them to water only every other day. The city plans to increase pressure on schools and HOAs to comply, Kyle said. And temperatures are expected to cool this week, which the city hopes will slack demand somewhat.

“The most they need to be watering is once every other day,” Kyle said.

The city issued a second statement about the water situation late Monday afternoon saying residents in other neighborhoods may see lower water pressure as the city deals with shortages in the northern area.

“We realize that this is frustrating and inconvenient to our residents,” officials said. “We are asking residents and large water users to use discretion with their irrigation watering and cut back to watering at a maximum of once every other day. Thank you for your help and patience in this matter.”